According to Investopedia, the startup failure rate is 90%.
This rate may indicate that a majority of startups don’t survive, but more importantly, it indicates that 10% of startups survive and even thrive.
So how do some startups survive while others fail?
A common trait among most successful startups is the ability to identify and use tools that improve business processes and increase efficiency. Automation is one tool that has become a firm favorite among startup teams. What is most impressive is that close to 80% of top-performing businesses (not just startups) use it.
With this in mind, let’s have a look at how more startups can capitalize on automation to scale their businesses and create profitability.
1. Streamlining team communication
Ineffective communication is expensive. The cost of poor communication has reached $37 billion and communication barriers are driving productivity losses to the tune of $62.4 million.
These stats highlight the importance of effective communication for startup success. In fact, effective communication is a probable remedy for several startup failure reasons such as disharmony on the team, burn out and poor marketing.
But although the idea of effective communication is ideal, it’s difficult in practice. Keeping different team members with diverse roles on the same page can be taxing. This is where automation proves invaluable. It can help streamline a team’s communication flow.
Some simple yet effective ways to automate communication include:
- Sharing files and collaborating documents with services such as Google Docs. A team can even create an extensive information database over time.
- Connecting applications and automating workflows with tools like Zapier. This will streamline both in-house and remote communication.
- Sharing progress reports with tools like iDoneThis. This can increase motivation as everyone sees how their work fits into the big picture.
- Sharing calendars using sharable tools like Office 365 and Google Apps calendars.
- Consolidating email with other communication channels such as file-sharing services (e.g. Dropbox), enterprise social networks (e.g. Yammer), and team collaboration software tools (e.g Slack).
Pro tip: Automating communication is only one piece of the puzzle. Continuously reviewing and updating the communication system is also crucial. In reviewing the system, startups should identify communication gaps and any instances of communication fatigue.
- Identifying and avoiding communication fatigue
The startup world is tough and tends to run 24/7/365 until the business is sustainable. Unfortunately, our super-connected digital society means it’s not uncommon for startup management to call team members at a moment’s notice.
While this may seem convenient, inundating team members with after-hours notifications can lead to communication fatigue, burnout, and ultimately, high staff turnover.
To avoid this, team members need to get some free time. For instance, this can be in the form of work-free weekends or the right to disconnect after certain hours.
- Identifying and addressing communication gaps
Today’s teams have many communication channels available to them. For example, a team’s content writers may communicate mainly using email while marketers are on Skype and IT technicians are on Slack.
But what happens when the writers want to communicate with the marketers who don’t check their email often?
You get a communication gap.
Bridging this gap requires adopting several methods including:
-Having regular face-to-face team meetings. According to a recent Adobe survey, in-person meetings are one of the most preferred communication methods among colleagues.
-Organizing monthly employee surveys and using them to engage the team, solidify communication lines, and get suggestions for growing the company.
-Organizing feedback sessions. These will ensure that the team shares the same ideas and business vision.
Startup growth and profitability depend largely on quick information dissemination and decision-making across the whole organization. An effective, streamlined communication strategy is vital for making this happen.
2. Enhancing the customer acquisition process
Startup customer acquisition is hard. During the time a brand is new, very few people are familiar with it or what it has to offer. This creates the need for a good customer acquisition strategy.
One core characteristic of a good strategy is the ability to minimize costs whenever possible. Even if a startup is well-funded, the efficient use of resources is a must. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that customer acquisition costs don’t exceed customer lifetime values.
Automation can help startups cut their customer acquisition costs. But automation is the last of a series of steps that make up a good customer acquisition process.
The process often involves:
Step 1: Defining the target audience
A startup should know its target audience. These are the people who are most likely to be interested in the business’ products or services. A target audience is also likely to be defined by some common characteristics (e.g. a specific demographic) or behaviors (e.g. niche market enthusiasts).
Note: Initially, it’s prudent to focus on target customers in just a single market or two; a wide target may limit the ability to market effectively.
Step 2: Determining where the target customers are
After defining target customers, the next step is to determine where they hang out both online and offline. This makes it possible to develop a targeted acquisition strategy.
Step 3: Automating the system to bring everything together
It’s impossible for a startup, or any business for that matter, to be everywhere all the time. But using automation, a startup can simultaneously start generating leads, increasing ROI, and growing the brand, all while saving on time and other resources.
Automation brings together the defined target audience and improves their experiences in the places where they hang out. The result of such a customer-focused approach is increased brand awareness and visibility in the sea of competing startups.
The following are some examples of how automation improves the customer acquisition process.
- Automation helps to generate leads, and once successful, nurture them.
Businesses must contact 80% of prospective customers five times before they convert to customers. However, a whopping 70% of brands give up after just one follow-up email to a prospect.
An automated email delivery system can simplify this process. The best part is that it’s possible to scale the system as the business grows.
- 80% of consumers want personalized experiences and automation can help with providing those experiences.
Knowing the target audience and where they hang out is important, but it’s no longer enough to provide generic experiences.
Consumers want personalized and hyper-relevant experiences. One of the best things about such experiences is that they reduce customer churn rate — a churn rate reduction of as little as 5% can increase profitability by 25–125%.
Automation can help enhance personalized and hyper-relevant customer experiences.
Although a lot of people think that automating a system eliminates personalization, this is untrue. The current business landscape involves lots of big data and morphing consumer demands; it’s impractical and nearly impossible to scale a business without some form of automation.
Using data analytics software to automate data processing and analysis can be game-changing for any startup. Deducing customer needs becomes easier and creating more targeted campaigns that offer high levels of personalization and hyper-relevancy also becomes simpler.
- People are increasingly looking over ads. Automation can help reduce this.
86% of people are now ignoring ads and using ad blockers. But this is where things get interesting. Nearly half of the people using ad blockers only do so because the ads they see are irrelevant to them.
AI combined with automation can help startups serve the right ads to people.
JPMorgan Chase has been automating key parts of its marketing process and the results have been mostly positive. In one test, instead of using human copywriters, the brand automated the search for appropriate ad words and phrases using a database. Afterwards, the company created AI machine-generated ads.
The machine-generated ads continuously garnered higher click-through rates and 2–5x more engagement compared to the human-generated ads. For example, the automated ad on the right got almost 5x more clicks than the human-created one on the left.
By using automation, JPMorgan has freed up time and resources that people can use on other value-adding activities.
The good thing about this automation is that it doesn’t only apply to ads.
For example, many startups use content marketing as part of their customer acquisition and retention process. The startups can automate part of the content generation process using natural language generation software like Quill or Wordsmith to create quick reports and updates.
3. Leveraging customer support for success
The world of business is competitive. The level of customer support a startup provides can be a key differentiator from other brands.
It’s easy for startups to put customer support on the back burner as they prioritize product development and optimization. However, good customer support can produce quality customer feedback. In turn, quality feedback can help a brand develop, improve, and optimize products in a way that boosts customer satisfaction.
Automation can improve customer support, but similar to enhancing the customer acquisition process, it only comes at the end of a series of steps.
Before automating customer support for business success, it’s important to prioritize the following:
- Managing customer requests with a simple but effective workflow
Using a simple workflow works best because it is easier to scale as the business grows. It’s possible to build a simple workflow by combining a single support email address and a few people to respond to questions during dedicated support times.
Starting with a simple workflow makes it systematically easier to add in more people and support channels such as live chat and chatbots as the brand grows.
- Having the whole team on board
Ensuring that everyone on the team, regardless of their department, is on the same page can contribute to the provision of stellar customer support. As a startup grows, data silos may cause discrepancies in customer experience. Therefore, it’s important to keep the support process inclusive of everyone in the team.
- Reviewing your most common customer issues
Common customer issues highlight what a startup can do better to improve customer experience. This is great for future product development and continuous brand improvement.
After creating a workflow, bringing the team together, and reviewing customer issues, a startup can now optimize the customer support system with automation.
Optimizing for efficiency with automation
Here are some customer support automation tips that will help with business scaling:
- Automating customer self-service.
Brands can use automation to collect and analyze customers’ common questions. These questions provide a robust foundation for creating a self-service FAQ resource.
An FAQ resource is invaluable because 40% of consumers now prefer self-service over human contact. Additionally, this resource will reduce the amount of time the support team spends answering common questions.
Note: Startups can also use automation to scale an FAQ resource as customers ask more questions.
- Centralizing communication
As a startup starts using multiple customer service communication channels, it will probably become harder to stay on top of them all. Centralizing communication with free customer support tools will make scaling the business easier.
- Automating workflows.
Using the “if this, then that” logic, brands can assign requests immediately to the right people and make customer support more efficient.
It’s estimated that businesses will automate 85% of their customer support by 2020. This forecast is high for good reason. Automation works and it’s a great idea to integrate it into a startup’s customer support structures right from the start.
This article has highlighted some of the merits of automation, but the fact is that good automation requires some forethought. A startup must justify the use of automation whether it’s for improving communication or customer acquisition and support processes.
The following are some things to do before deciding to automate any process or system.
- Consulting with the team about tedious tasks they are happy to eliminate
Over 40% of workers spend at least 25% of their workweek on repetitive tasks. Starting the automation process with the least-enjoyed, repetitive, or mundane tasks such as request approvals will likely make team members feel valued. Workplace happiness and employee retention may increase as a result.
- Understanding the process that needs automation
It’s always best to assess a situation before going all in. Some processes only require partial automation, but it takes understanding a process to know this.
- Opting for tools that benefit the team, not just a few
It’s probably best to ensure that automation tools address common issues and don’t only work for a few people.
- Looking for intuitive tools
The best automation tools are those team members can use effectively and efficiently.
- Understanding the risk involved
Automation isn’t foolproof. One of the greatest risk automated systems face is hacking. As hackers become more sophisticated, automated systems are becoming more vulnerable to attacks.
It’s essential to invest in a robust security system that includes things like back-up storage and firewalls which minimize or eliminate breaches.
- Testing and improving
Automation should align with business needs and goals; testing is essential to determine the level of this alignment. A lack of alignment between automation and business needs and objectives warrants urgent action.
Note: Testing should not be a one-time undertaking when a system is set up. It should be a regular activity as the startup’s automation evolves and develops further.
- Leaving room for non-automation
Automation can’t do everything. For example, business functions like public relations require a human touch and in-person interaction, not computerized responses. It’s advisable not to be over-reliant on automated systems.
- Adopting a long-term view
Startup resources are precious and so it’s unwise to invest in an automation system that will be obsolete in a year. It’s good to invest in a flexible automation solution that will adapt to company needs and changes as the business grows.
Over to you
Automation is a key element for success when it comes to scaling any startup, green startups included. This is because it’s a strategic asset that can level the business playing field for all companies regardless of their size. The key is to use it well.